If had not been a chef, there is a good chance that Kayzad Sadri would have become a tourist guide. Quiz him about the major cities of India and he will come back with details of a little known eater that serves the best local eatery that serves the best local delicacy. He reveals to Vinita Bhatia how he once went to the hinterlands of Madhya Pradesh just because someone told him aboutt a particular kebab found there!
Vinita Bhatia (VB): Please don’t tell me that you decided to become a chef because you loved food!
That phrase has been done to death.
Kayzad Sadri (KS): That was definitely one of the main reasons I became a chef! Though another reason was that studies at school wearied me and I did not see myself working behind a desk. Though I was born in Mumbai, I did part of my schooling in Navsari where I was known more for my energetic out-of-class excursions than my academic capabilities. Since I had a twin brother, you can imagine how much ruckus the two of us would rake up, back then!
When the time came to think about which profession I should take, I decided to try my hand at hotel management from Rizvi College of Hotel Management. What began as a flight of fancy had me hooked completely.
Later, I undertook two years of post graduation in kitchen operations from Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development (OCLD) in New Delhi. I even began my career there in 2001 as a Kitchen Management Associate. Since I was never one for studies, my parents were very surprised to learn that I was amongst the two candidates selected for that program, after 6 odd rounds of multiple interviews, group discussions, written tests and a cooking test. Frankly, to an extent, so was I!
VB: You advocate the use of locally produced ingredients. However you have always worked with 5-star properties where the menus feature important ed ingredients since they cater to international travellers. How do you maintain a fine balance between the two?
KS: I have been very vocal that irrespective of the stature of the property, the emphasis should be on quality ingredients and locally produced ingredients since they will always be fresher. Personally, I believe in supporting artisanal and small-scale growers, so they have a chance to scale their business and serve the industry better.
Of course, all the best ingredients cannot be available in a single region. Hence, one needs to import some of them. For instance, if Parma ham is needed, my team will search and get the best quality possible.
VB: Local food or international fare – what rocks your boat?
KS: Now this might sound clichéd again, but food excites me. A traditional dal prepared in an earthenware pot in Rajasthan, a Dhansak at home on a hot afternoon, freshly made Buratta in Italy or a juicy burger from a deli in America – I am passionate about them all. I think once you enjoy cooking and eating good food and appreciate it in its true form, you have a connect with food, which is beautiful.
I personally gravitate towards food I ate growing up like my mother’s Pomfret Curry or Thai Green Curry. My all-time favourite is a Parsi dish called Chapat. These are sweet pancakes flavoured with nutmeg and nuts. My grandmother used to make it for us when we went to her house during school vacations. If I had to choose my last meal on earth, Chapat would be it.
VB: You worked in New Delhi, then Udaipur and now in Mumbai. In your experience, how varied are customer expectations in each of these cities?
KS: Each of these cities has certain importance for me for different reasons. Delhi is where I began my career. Udaipur is where I met my wife, who is also an alumnus of OCLD. Mumbai is where my family – my parents, my brother, his wife and son – live – and will always be home.
But coming to your question, I never thought about my guests from a city’s perspective. This is because, in my opinion, a guest’s expectations anywhere in the world will be the same – to get good value for the money spent.
VB: Intercontinental Marine Drive has three different restaurants, all with distinct themes. How do you keep injecting newness into each restaurant’s menu to keep regulars returning?
KS: The Intercontinental Marine Drive has got some amazing dining and entertainment options. There is the traditional Kebab Korner, the popular rooftop Dome, the oriental Koh and Long & Short; each with a unique style. When working on Kebab Korner’s menu, I have to keep in mind old favourites, which guests keep asking for each time they visit, as well as the cuisine’s authenticity.
With Long & Short, I can be more creative, experimenting with new flavours and ingredients. Dome is about finger foods and unusual pairings. I have to keep thinking all the time about what to come up with for each of these dining establishments.
VB: So, is there one particular source of inspiration when you put your thinking cap on?
KS: I have studied a lot of chefs, their style and their cooking in detail and try to draw some elements from each of them. I admire Chef Thomas Keller of the French Laundry for his simplicity and perfection in executing every dish, Chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin for his imaginative seafood preparations, Chef David Chiang of Momofuku for his distinctly individualistic style – the list is pretty long. However, one chef closer home whom I revere is my OCLD instructor, Chef Baranidharan P. He ingrained a discipline and passion in us which serves me well even today.
VB: Many of these chefs you mentioned won renown since they have their own restaurants where they have culinary freedom to express themselves. But several others have failed, because they were not as adept at running a
restaurant as they were at cooking exceptional food. Don’t you agree?
KS: I think chefs make very astute business managers. At least, that is the feedback I received from two of my ex-bosses. I, too, nurture the dream of someday playing the role of a business owner-cum-restaurateur. I think if you handle a kitchen, whether for a standalone restaurant or a hotel chain, you end up with skills like planning, organisation people management and management of resources.
VB: So will we see you managing your own restaurant soon?
KS: For now, I want to keep doing great work in great organizations with great people, be it as the corporate chef or general manager of an amazing hotel chain like the Intercontinental Marine Drive, or in my
own restaurant. That is something only time will tell.